When Lacey Evans returned to World Wrestling Entertainment in April 2022, she had a distinctly new attitude. Her ‘Southern Belle’ character was a hypocrite who schemed to win and had a violent temper, but didn’t acknowledge these flaws and carried herself with a prissy, prudish veneer. This iteration of Evans was a comic heel who even had a viral moment when she tied Naomi’s hair to the ropes, igniting an online outcry. She also made pro wrestling history at 2019’s Crown Jewel, when she and opponent Natalya became the first female pro wrestlers to wrestle a match in Saudi Arabia. The ‘Southern Belle’ character was last seen in early 2021, feuding with Charlotte Flair before Evans departed for maternity leave.
Lacey Evans: Inspirational Figure?
When Evans returned in the spring of the following year, she didn’t return to her former brand, Monday Night Raw, or her sassy southern character, either. The new Evans debuted in a series of vignettes on Friday Night SmackDown. In a subdued, earnest delivery Evans detailed her childhood, which was plagued by the issues of the adults around her like homelessness, legal woes, and addiction. She told ESPN in 2017,
“This is the life I saw and I knew I would never become that,” Evans said. “While everyone was giving up around me, I had to make sure I didn’t.”
Evans certainly did not give up. She focused on academics in high school, excelled, enlisted in the armed forces, served in combat, and also joined the military police. This new babyface persona, based on Evans’s own compelling and heroic backstory, was primed to capture the hearts and minds of the WWE audience.
However, Evans’s latest run with WWE has not taken the obvious route. After gaining momentum with her babyface promos on SmackDown, Evans was temporarily transferred to Monday Night Raw in May, where she did little more than cut an in-ring promo. She was moved back to SmackDown in June, and qualified for the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match by defeating Xia Li. She participated in the match at the July 2 Money in the Bank ppv. Evans has been on the move, and her character in flux, for the past four months.
When her heel turn, which has been long rumored, finally came, Evans took issue with the audience on July 8’s episode of Friday Night SmackDown. Evans took issue with the audience’s lackluster applause, feeling that she warranted more enthusiasm given how much she had been through. After insulting the crowd, Evans attacked tag team partner Aliyah.
Was a Heel Turn the Right Move?
The ties between World Wrestling Entertainment and the United States Armed Forces are deep and genuine. Evans in a heroic, babyface mold would be an asset to promoting this connection. Evans’s vignettes were gripping and, to many, relatable. By not continuing to paint Evans as a heroic and earnest survivor, WWE may have very well lost out on a chance to create a character many fans would no doubt find to be inspirational.
Was it Really a Heel Turn At All?
However, it could also be argued that Evans didn’t turn heel-that she never truly turned face in April. At the end of every monologue about her childhood trials and how she overcame them, Evans would assert that none of the women in WWE’s locker room were better than her. The chip on her shoulder was ingrained in the fabric of this new version of Evans from the beginning. Her Raw promo gave away very little about the characters’ intentions. She seemed to be a face in her MITB qualifier match against Xia Li, given that Li is now, herself, a heel. Looks, however, can be deceiving. By the time Evans attacked Aliyah on July 8, her intentions were clear.
Evans has always had strong character work. Her comedic ‘Southern Belle’ was tough but also hilarious. Her new character, with a heroic past and villainous intent, is sure to be compelling as well given the heart that Evans gives to her work in WWE. Opening her heart to fans about her past helped Evans make an impact, and while always an enjoyable heel she showed great potential as a babyface.
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